In the 20 years since it opened, Rudy & Paco has become the most acclaimed seafood restaurant on Galveston Island—no small feat in a highly competitive dining market where generations of families such as the Smeccas, Kriticos and Maceos have reigned for decades. Though Rudy Teichman, a local oil-services tycoon known for tussling with Houston Rockets coaching legend Rudy Tomjanovich over the use of the nickname Rudy T., passed away in 2012 at the age of 81, his cheerful business partner Francisco “Paco” Vargas is always in the downtown dining room, a clubby warren of dark-wood wine lockers and crisp white-linen tablecloths.
The sophisticated space is the perfect setting for enjoying Latin-influenced dishes like the filete de pargo elegante, a stunning entrée of succulent baked Gulf red snapper topped with rich sautéed crabmeat, a tart salsa and a half-dome of avocado slices. Red snapper, called pargo in Paco’s home country of Nicaragua, finds its way into seven other entrées here, all of which pair perfectly with complimentary baskets of crispy plantain chips and chimichurri.
Over at the Pelican Rest Marina complex near the entrance to the island, the cutting-edge kitchen at Number 13 Prime Steak & Seafood turns out dazzling seafood dishes both magnificent and modern: a towering Grand Amusé plates half-shell oysters, cold crab claws, boiled shrimp and more over crushed ice in a glittering silver bowl, while local snapper is oak-grilled and served with a tangy chimichurri sauce. Pair it with scenic views and a selection from the smart wine list for a memorable meal.
A short ferry ride away is Steve’s Landing, another marina-based seafood restaurant—this one on nearby Bolivar Peninsula. While the gumbo and étouffée are both excellent, the real stand-out here is an unusual pairing: a wild take on a Lowland classic that serves bright-red, Indo-British shrimp tikka masala alongside a mound of creamy Southern jalapeño-cheese grits. Skip dessert and dive into a minty mojito instead; it’s what island life demands.
Back on the Seawall, BLVD. Seafood lures you in with chic, inviting diner décor and an open kitchen, then hooks you with a refreshingly updated spin on Gulf seafood. Look for a variation of Hawaiian-style poke made with Gulf tuna, and don’t overlook the classic grouper and red snapper preparations: grilled, broiled, fried, blackened and pecan-crusted.
Gaido’s, the 105-year-old Seawall institution, is arguably the most famous seafood restaurant in the state. Fourth-generation owner Nick Gaido recently stepped in and took over the place, which could mean change is on the way to both the dining room and the menu. Let’s hope he doesn’t tinker with the wonderfully rich Watkins Bisque, the molasses-glazed, bacon-wrapped shrimp peques, or the pan-fried Gulf fish.